Aaron Klug on Francis Crick
  Aaron Klug     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jun 2005

Crick. I have lots of stories about—yes, I remember when we worked on the nucleosome, on the chromatin. We were trying to work out how DNA was packaged inside in the chromosomes. I remember what Francis said to me. He was always—there were threads, bits of information as they came. Whatever bit of information we got Francis would try to make a model. I said, look, Francis we just don’t have enough data. He said to me, we would look very foolish if we missed, if we couldn’t guess or grasp it before you got all your data. Which was what they did with the DNA double helix, you see [laugh]. So that was very—and he had great powers of concentration. He once phoned me up at 7 o’clock in the morning, which is not a time in England that you get up. He had been thinking about something for hours. Odile, his wife, told me that when he would concentrate upon something it was impossible to get him to think about anything else.

He had a new model for chromatin. It wasn’t correct. He had to tell me about it, will you be in the lab later. He had the excitement of a youngster, you see. He had that all the time.

This would have been in, around about middle ‘70s, in the middle ‘70s. I wrote an obituary of Crick for a Nobel symposium recently, which you ought to have in your library.

He was also—I’ll tell you a story about him. When he started a subject he found everything he could about it. He read all the papers in neurobiology to learn all the anatomy of the brain. He knew it all. He knew it very well. He didn’t mind hard work to learn at all.

This showed itself when he and his wife bought a cottage outside Cambridge. They were going to plant daffodils, bulbs that would grow into daffodils. Odile was the gardener but Francis immediately decided that he better find out about daffodils. So he read everything he could about daffodils. In the end they planted a thousand bulbs. He took it over from poor Odile, his wife. He mastered things. He had a marvelous capacity for assimilating different kinds of data. He had the patience and the stomach to do it. Most people would think it very boring. He didn’t mind doing boring things.

So one time he built—he inherited a piece of land from his aunt in Cambridge in which they built some flats through a local estate agent, a man called _____. A very, very important estate agent in Rialton (??) Estates in Cambridge and he offered Francis a job. He said he had never come across anybody like him. This was in the late ‘60s because suddenly he could grasp the whole building rules, you know, the market for the rents and so on, because Francis had this capacity for assimilating and of course he’s highly imaginative so he could see what he might do with it. He was a remarkable man. Well, you can see it in Jim’s book. What’s Jim’s book The Double Helix about, the very first sentence is about Francis. What the book is about though he doesn’t say so—although Francis, some people think they call him a genius. It wasn’t Francis who discovered—I, Watson, discovered base pairing at the beginning of the book and at the end of the book. So he’s a remarkable man.

I published three papers with Crick.

One of them was diffraction, a technical paper on diffraction by helical structures which I wrote for Rosalind. How do you make a map? It’s all very well with DNA, the double helix or atoms, but how do you have a whole protein making helical proteins. How do you take the data and produce a three-dimensional map as you could for a three-dimensional crystal. I _________discovered Francis had also done it so we published together. Later when we were working on chromatin we were wondering how DNA was packaged. We now know in the nucleus that DNA is wound in a spiral in a helix. The double helix is wound in a spiral. Francis and I thought at one time that maybe it isn’t smoothly bent but it’s done in a series of sections and we called it—I called it kinked helix, kinked helix. He said oh no that’s too square. You want something more flashy. He didn’t use the word flashy. You want something more like called it a kinky helix, because there were kinky boots you see. So we published a paper in Nature called Kinky Helix. It turned out not to be right, though there are such kinks in other situations but not for the nucleosome. There was another paper I published with him. I’m trying to remember what that was. But I didn’t work closely with him. We used to talk a lot. I guess I probably shared a paper with him and Sydney on the origins of the genetic code. I published a paper with him and Sydney, Sydney Brenner and a man called George Pachenik, which was later quoted in Time magazine. George Pachenik is a rather clever, strange fellow who used to hang around this lab. He used to come and visit us. It was to do with the way that the code, genetic code developed, the origins of the code. It was clever, but wrong.

Aaron Klug is chemist and biophysicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. After completing his BSc at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, he attended the University of Cape Town on scholarship where he received M.Sc. degree. In 1949 he moved to Cambridge in England, he studied molecular structure of steel and wrote a thesis on the changes that occur when molten steel solidifies, for which he earned Ph.D. in 1952.

In 1953 he obtained a fellowship to work at Birkbeck Collage in London, where he met Rosalind Franklin. They worked together to determine the structural nature of the tobacco mosaic virus. After Franklin's death in 1958 he continued his work on viruses together with Kenneth Holmes and John Finch. In 1962 he accepted a position at Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

His major contribution to scientific research was the development of crystallography electron microscopy for which he was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.

More Information: Wikipedia, Nobelprize.org